RESEARCH STRATEGIES FOR WRITING A PAPER

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KENTUCKY STATE UNIVERSITY                                                BLAZER LIBRARY

SELECTING A TOPIC

Selecting an interesting, manageable topic is the first crucial step in undertaking a project involving significant library research.  A topic should not be so broad that it generates an overwhelming amount of research material to wade through.  Conversely, it should not be too narrow that finding sufficient information becomes a struggle.  Most importantly, a well-chosen topic is one that holds interest throughout the research and writing processes.

Useful sources for generating ideas include subject reference books, periodicals and Online Databases. To develop topics, or to make certain that ideas for topics are readily researchable and have sufficient focus, consult with the instructor assigning the research paper.

The five-volume Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are helpful for broadening, narrowing or otherwise refining a topic.  Use the LCSH symbols, such as BT (Broader Term) and NT (Narrower Term), listed under a subject heading to refine a topic.

GAINING AN OVERVIEW OF A TOPIC

After selecting a topic, the next step in the research process is to identify and read material that gives an overview of the topic.  The sources used to initially think of a topic may well provide an overview of the subject.  Also, Blazer Library owns a wealth of sources that provide background information on numerous topics.  These sources include general encyclopedias, subject encyclopedias and specialized dictionaries.

General encyclopedias contain a wide variety of articles written by experts in particular subject areas.  Encyclopedic overviews provide concise introductions to research topics.  In addition, cross-references and bibliographies appearing at the end of encyclopedia articles may lead to important articles and books on the same subject.

Most areas of knowledge are covered in general encyclopedias.  Some topnotch general encyclopedias are Encyclopedia Americana, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Collier’s Encyclopedia, each of which is available in the library’s Reference area and/or online.

Subject encyclopedias contain specialized information in specific academic areas or fields, such as art, biology, education, religion and the social sciences.  Articles in these sources are more detailed than those found in general encyclopedias; they also contain more extensive bibliographies.  There are many examples of subject encyclopedias in the Reference collection:

Encyclopedia of Black America

The Encyclopedia of Education

Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology

The Encyclopedia of Religion

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

In reading encyclopedic overviews – either books or articles – unfamiliar concepts may arise that need defining.  Blazer Library holds many specialized subject dictionaries:

Black’s Law Dictionary

Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery

Dictionary of American History

A Dictionary of Superstitions

The Facts on File Dictionary of Public Administration

Plato Dictionary

Some dictionaries actually contain encyclopedia-type articles, as well as bibliographies.

FINDING PERIODICAL ARTICLES ON A TOPIC

Magazines and journals are both considered periodicals.  Periodical articles provide more up-to-date information on a topic than do books.  Reading a number of articles rather than a single book, provides a variety of perspectives on a subject.  There is likely to be more value in reading 20, 15-page periodical articles than in reading two, 150-page books!

Most periodical literature are aimed at a general audience and is unsuitable for a college-level research paper.  To determine whether a periodical article is an appropriate information source, answer the following questions:

  1. Does the author of the article have expertise in the subject? What are the author’s credentials?
  2. What is the level and scope of coverage? Is the article too elementary or too advanced?  Is it published in a scholarly journal or a popular magazine?
  3. Does the article have notes or a bibliography that cite sources used?

Professors require the use of scholarly journals, such as the American Historical Review, Journal of Black Studies or Social Psychology Quarterly, as sources of research information for assigned papers.  Popular magazines, such as Ebony, Newsweek and Redbook may also be useful for obtaining information, but should not be relied on as main sources of research.

To find appropriate articles, use the Online Databases or the print indexes located in the Periodicals area.   Many of the articles found in the library databases include a full text option, while many others provide abstracts.  The references at the end of articles should lead to still other important articles on a subject or topic.  Consult a Reference librarian for help in selecting useful databases and/or print indexes.

IDENTIFYING BOOKS ON A TOPIC

A good place to start looking for books on a subject are the bibliographies found at the end of encyclopedia articles.  Next, look for books on the library’s online catalog.  If specific authors or titles relating to your topic are not known, searches may be performed by using keywords or subject headings.  For instructions on using Online Catalog, visit us at the Reference Desk or request a Library Instruction class session.   Remember, a paper topic may need to be altered if too many, or too few, items are available on a subject.  A search for books about “motion pictures” retrieves an overwhelming number of records on the Online Catalog.  By narrowing the search, for instance to “women and motion pictures” or to “blacks and motion pictures,” a more manageable number of titles comes up.

LOCATING ADDITIONAL MATERIALS ON A TOPIC

Some topics are more fully served by searches for material in less conventional sources.  This step often comes after completing searches for articles and books.  Additional material can help fill information gaps or provide supporting evidence for an argument.  Newspapers, government documents and microform collections are a few examples of other sources that may be worthwhile to examine when researching a paper.

DOCUMENTING SOURCES USED

State the sources used, or consulted, in writing a paper.  Information with no sources cited has no credibility. Be careful to print, write or photocopy citations of sources that are being used as they are being used.  Trying to retrace steps to find where specific material came from after the fact is often an impossible task to accomplish.

PLAGIARISM

Plagiarism is prohibited in writing research paper.  Plagiarism is making use of the ideas and words of others without acknowledging the source of information.  To avoid plagiarism acknowledge sources used for your paper; do not download term papers, or copy and paste others work. Plagiarism may result in one’s paper not been graded and/or or dismissal from a course.

PRINT STYLE MANUAL

There are four major style manuals published in the print format.  Instructors generally require students to use one of these four for citing references:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style. (2010).  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.  (16th edition)
  • Turabian Kate L. (2013) A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. (Revised edition/sixth ed.)   Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • The MLA Style Manual. (2009). New York: The Modern Language Association of America.   (7th ed.)
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. (2010)  Sixth edition.  Washington: APA. 

Click on the link below for the computer to do your citation for you:

ELECTRONIC STYLE MANUALS

The Columbia University Press, 2000,  noted that the bibliographic listings of electronic sources follows the styles used for print sources, i.e., humanities styles such as Modern Language Association (MLA) or Chicago style manual or scientific style such as American Psychological Association (APA).

Humanities Style:

Author’s Last Name, First Name.

“Title of Document.”  Title of Complete Work [if applicable].

Version or File Number [if applicable].  Document date or date of last revision [if different from access date].  Protocol and address, access path or directories (date of access).

Scientific Style:

Author’s last Name, Initial (s).

(Date of document [if different from date accessed)]. Title of document.  Title of complete work [if applicable]. Version or File number [if applicable].  (Edition or revision [if applicable]).  Protocol and address, access path, or directories (date of access).

The World Wide Web (WWW):

Humanities Style:

Write the author’s name, last name first (if known); the full title of the work, in quotation marks; the title of the complete work (if applicable), in italics; any version or file numbers; and the date of the document or last revision (if available).  Next, list the protocol (e.g., “http”) and the full URL, finally give the date of access in parentheses.  This cite may not be obtainable now, but the date of access authenticates it.  Meaning that on Nov. 11 2000 that site existed and was cited, hence the importance of putting the access date.

Burka, Lauren P. “A Hypertext History

of Multi-User Dimensions.” MUD History.1993.   http://www.apocalypse.org/pub/u/lpb/muddex/essay (11 Nov. 2000)

Scientific Style:

Provide the author’s last name and initials (if known) and the date of publication in parentheses.  Next, list the full title of the work, capitalizing only the first word and any proper nouns; the title of the complete work or site (if applicable) in italics, again capitalizing only the first word and any proper nouns; any version or file numbers, enclosed in parentheses; the protocol and address, including the path or directories necessary to access the document; and finally the date accessed, enclosed in parentheses. This site may not be obtainable now, but the date of access authenticates it.  Meaning that on Nov. 11 2000 that site existed and was cited, hence the importance of putting the access date.

Burka, L. P. (1993).  A hypertext

history of multi-user dimensions.

MUD history. http://www.apocalypse.org/pub/u/lpb/muddex/essay (11 Nov2000).

Email, Discussion Lists, and Newsgroups

Humanities Style:

Give the author’s name (if known) or the author’s email or login name (the part of the email address before the @ sign), followed by the subject line of the posting, enclosed in quotation marks; the date of the message if different from the date accessed; and the name of the discussion list (if applicable), in italics.  Next, give the address of the list, or the protocol and address of the newsgroup, followed by the date accessed in parentheses.

Crump, Eric. “Re: Preserving Writing.”

Alliance for Computers and Writing

Listserv.  acw-1@ unicorn.acs.ttu.edu

(31 Mar. 1995).

Scientific Style:

Write the author’s name and initials (if known) or the author’s alias; the date of the message in parentheses, if different from the date accessed; and the subject line, only first word and proper nouns capitalized.  For discussion lists and newsgroups, include the name of the list (if applicable), capitalized as just described and italicized; the list address; and the date accessed, in parentheses.

Crump, E. Re: Preserving Writing.

Alliance for Computers and Writing.

listserv. acw-1@unioncorn. Acs.ttu.edu

(31 Mar. 1995).

Synchronous Communication Sites

Humanities Style:

Give the name or alias of the author or speaker (if known); the type of communication (i.e., “Personal interview”) or, for synchronous conferences, the session title (if applicable), enclosed in quotation marks; the site title (if applicable), in italics; the protocol and address, including any paths or directories, the command sequence (if applicable), and, in parentheses, the date of the conversation.

Kiwi. “Playing the Jester Is Hard

Work.” DaMOO.  Telnet://damoo.csun.edu:7777 (4 Dec. 1996).

Scientific Style:

Write the name or alias of the author or speaker (if known); the type of communication (e.g., Personal interview) or, for conferences, the session title; the site title (if applicable), in italics; the protocol and address, the command sequence (if applicable), and, in parentheses, the date of the conversation.

Kiwi.  Playing the Jester is hard

work.  DaMoo.  telnet://damoo. Csun.edu:7777 (4 Dec. 1996).

Online Reference Sources

Humanities Style:

Give the author’s name (if known); the title of the article, in quotation marks; the title of the complete work, in italics; any print publication information, including the date; information concerning the online edition (if applicable); the name of the online service, in italics, or the protocol and address and the path or directories followed; and, in parentheses, the date of access.

“Fine Arts.” Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.

2nd ed. Ed. E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin.  1993. INSO corp.  America Online.  Reference Desk/Dictionaries/Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (20 May 1996).

Scientific Style:

Give the author’s last name and initials; the publication date (if known and if different from the date accessed); and the title of the article. Then the cite word “In, “followed by the name (s) of the author (s) or editor (s) (if applicable) and, in italics the title of the complete work; any previous print publication information (if applicable); identification of the online edition (if applicable); the name of the online service, in italics or the protocol and address and the path followed to access the material; and, in parentheses, the date accessed.

Fine Arts. (1993). In E. D. Hirsch,

Jr; J. F. Kett, & Terfil (Eds.)

Dictionary of cultural literacy..

Boston: Houghton Mifflin.. INSO corp.

America Online Desk/Dictionaries/Directory of

Cultural Literacy (20 May 1996).

Electronic Publications and Online Databases

Humanities Style:

List the author’s name, last name first (if known); the tile of the article, in quotation marks; and the title of the software publication in italics. Next, list any version or edition numbers or other identifying information, the series mane (if applicable), and the date of publication. Finally, cite the name of the database ( if applicable) and the name of the online service-both in italics or the Internet protocol and address, any other publication information, the directory path followed ( if applicable), and in parentheses, the date accessed.

Warren, Christopher “Working to Ensure a

Secure and Comprehensive Peace in the Middle East.

“U.S. Dept. of State Dispatch 7:14, 1 Apr. 1996.

FastDoc. OCLC. File #9060273898 (12 Aug. 1996).

Scientific Style:

List the author’s name last name and initials; the date of publication, in parentheses; the title of the article or file and enclosed in parentheses, any identifying file or version numbers or other identifying information (if applicable); the title of the electronic database, in italics; the mane of the online service in italics, and access information protocol and address and any directory paths; and in parentheses, the data accessed.

Warren, C. (1996). Working to ensure a secure and

comprehensive peace in the Middle East

(U.S. Dept of State Dispatch 7:14). FastDoc.

OCLC (File#9060273898) (12 Aug. 1996).

Software Programs and Video Games

Humanities Style:

Cite the name of the author or corporate author (if applicable); the title of the software program, in italics; the version number (if applicable and if not included in the software title); and the publication information, including the date of publication (if known).

ID Software. The Ultimate Doom.

New York: GT Interactive Software, 1995.

Scientific Style:

Cite the last name and initials of the author (if applicable); the date of publication or release, in parentheses; the title of the software program or video game, in italics; the version number (if applicable) and if not included in the software title), in parentheses; and the publication information.

ID Software. (1993). The ultimate doom.

NY: GT Interactive Software.

Another cite for your perusal:  http://www.apastyle.org/

For an expanded instruction on Citation Styles, please visit Purdue University Online Writing Lab at:     https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/10/

Note:  Some of the websites listed above may have changed.  In such cases, try other sites.

Updated by Nkechi Amadife, July 2015